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Thursday, April 27, 2006 - Page updated at 01:03 AM


Roslyn contends with another type of exposure — to development

Seattle Times staff reporter

ROSLYN, Kittitas County — Sitting on the sunny deck of The Inn at Suncadia, overlooking an Arnold Palmer-designed 18-hole golf course, Chris Kelsey makes a request for the comfort of his guests.

"Alex, bring out the drink basket," says Kelsey, senior vice president of development for Suncadia, a 6,300-acre resort carved within the forested Cle Elum River valley, on the eastern slope of the snow-capped Cascades.

Moments later, Alex Hillinger, Suncadia's director of communications, returns with a silver bowl artfully arranged with ice and a variety of juices, waters and sodas.

It's a far cry from the gritty mountain town of Roslyn, yet only a mile away.

Suncadia is moving right along with plans to put about 3,000 homes and three golf courses (one private) beside the 1,000 residents of Roslyn. The development has Rosyln, founded for coal mining and overexposed by TV, feeling surrounded and self-conscious. The resort already has spawned smaller-scale luxury subdivisions, some gated in the valley.

While other towns in the Cascades capitalize on their quaintness — Leavenworth promoting a Bavarian theme, for example — Roslyn wraps itself stubbornly around the one constant that has endured its various boom-bust cycles from mining town to timber town to ghost town to tourist town.

"It's a place that's real," said Peg Bryant, a Kansas native who has lived in Roslyn for more than 30 years. "Roslyn's theme is Roslyn."

No, Roslyn isn't a soundstage, even though Hollywood did turn the historic downtown into one — fictional Cicely, Alaska — during the five years the CBS series "Northern Exposure" was filmed here.

People in Roslyn take their dogs to the movie theater — and also to the Brick Tavern, which offers two tacos for $1 on Tuesdays and a $6.95 spaghetti dinner special on Fridays. If a house has a gate, it's to keep the dog in, not to keep people out.

There's no home mail delivery, either, making it almost impossible to avoid running into a neighbor at the post office.

Housing in Roslyn tends to be small cottages on small lots, many dating back to the coal miners. Some are supported perilously on rotting wood blocks instead of a concrete foundation.

"The old dump is on the historic register," former Mayor Jack Denning said, referring to Roslyn's downtown.

"The real story"

At Leftie's, a small café and grocery downtown, the espresso machine is on the fritz again. Drip coffee is served lukewarm but the milky clam chowder, made from a home recipe, is darn good.

"They come in all the time and say we're so quaint," owner Cheryl Cox said. "My favorite question is, 'What's your story?' Well, I'm not a book. And they don't want to hear the real story anyway."

She's right. They probably don't.

At Suncadia, lots alone are selling from the low $200,000s to the low $800,000s, mostly to people building second homes. To build, homeowners will have to follow a series of restrictive covenants. No laundry hanging outside to dry. No piles of junk in the yard covered with blue tarps.

Those things fly in Roslyn, but not at Suncadia.

Suncadia is not Roslyn, even though its address says so and its marketing materials promote the proximity to the town.

Today's Roslyn has an eclectic mix of lifestyles that are "exciting and delightful," a Suncadia visitor guide says. "You can't explore the community without quickly experiencing its distinctive charm."

The resort branded one of its three golf courses "Rope Rider" after a particularly daring type of coal miner.

To some, Roslyn is becoming a prop all over again, its mythology extracted this time to satisfy the curiosities of its new neighbors instead of the whims of TV viewers.

Been here long?

Roslyn maintains a pecking order on pedigree. Only those whose families go back at least 100 years to the Roslyn coal mines can rightly call themselves locals. The wave that moved there in the '70s — the hippies, as the locals call them — came because of the largely unspoiled beauty of the natural surroundings and stayed because they enjoyed the isolation.

The new wave is coming for many of the same reasons — "sanctuary and pure recreation," as a Suncadia promotional piece describes the area. "Getting away has never brought you closer."

When Snoqualmie Pass is clear of snow, and traffic on Interstate 90 is light, travel time between Roslyn and Seattle is less than 90 minutes.

"Many mountain towns have staccato interventions of people who move in with their own interpretations of what makes the place special," says Suncadia's Kelsey, who used to work for a mountain resort in Colorado. "What I've struggled with as a latecomer is how my entrance into the community in 2003 is different than theirs in 1975."

Bryant, who arrived in 1973, heads up RIDGE, a group that negotiated a mitigation agreement with Suncadia's predecessor that shrunk the size of the development, put money into Roslyn city coffers and preserved forestland to serve as a buffer between the resort and the town. The agreement also prevents Suncadia from using Roslyn's distinctive cemeteries in their advertising out of respect for the dead and their families.

"With Suncadia, you've basically dropped a new town into the middle of the woods," said Ellie Belew, a RIDGE activist. "We want to maintain Roslyn as a place that people view as 'home' versus a drop-in destination for fun. We're a working town, not a bedroom community."

Jobs, though, are few in town. Residents tend to commute to work in Cle Elum, Ellensburg, Yakima or even the Puget Sound area. Suncadia, Kelsey said, has won support of many in Roslyn because of its potential as an employer.

Suncadia is owned and operated by subsidiaries of JELD-WEN, a window and door manufacturer in Oregon, and Lowe Enterprises, which runs Sunriver Resort in Bend, Ore.

At the Roslyn resort, so far only eight houses have been built along with two of the three golf courses and the small inn. But changes brought on by Suncadia — and the surrounding developments sparked by it — are evident already.

Suncadia has built two roundabouts on the road outside the entrance to manage the increased traffic the resort will bring. Big rigs are hogging area roads, hauling away powdery tailings from coal mining to make way for housing. Recreational campsites and hiking trails that were private timber lands, yet still open for public access, now have no-trespassing signs posted as they convert into housing developments.

A small but nice house on a tiny lot inside the town of Roslyn recently sold for just under $300,000.

Different downtown

Downtown is changing, too. The T-shirt shops selling "Northern Exposure" gear are pretty much gone. New businesses have opened that sell fine furnishings and designer kitchen interiors. The busiest shop, though, is the building supply store.

A local group called "Roslyn Revitalization" has formed to restore and preserve downtown Roslyn. Spruce it up a bit. The group has established a grant fund for property owners to improve their storefronts.

There are suspicions by Cox, the owner of Leftie's, and others in town who say the group is a Suncadia plot to make Roslyn look presentable to the silver-drink-basket crowd — and does not represent the desire of some downtown Roslyn business owners. It doesn't help that the secretary of the group is Jean Krisle, Suncadia's director of community relations.

"Because I work for Suncadia, I have intentionally tried to take a backseat on this," Krisle said. "At the same time, Suncadia is invested in this community. I believe that our success depends on the success of the communities around us. But we don't want to change Roslyn. That's not why we are here."

RIDGE is determined to make sure that Roslyn survives this latest boom cycle. Just as coal and timber and Hollywood had busts, so, too, will high-end residential development, said Belew, a Minnesota native who has lived in Roslyn 17 years.

"We want to sustain Roslyn both economically and ecologically, no matter what changes and growth occur," she said. "We don't want this place to end up looking like 'Anywhere Land.' "

Denning, who was Roslyn's mayor from 1980 to 1996, got grief from some residents for signing contracts that brought "Northern Exposure" to town in 1990. During his 16 years in office, he said he often heard: "Goddammit, Jack Denning! We're not against progress, but don't you change anything."

Denning said those in RIDGE who want to keep Roslyn the same are forgetting its original coal-mining roots.

"Are they saying they want a dozen whorehouses and 26 taverns again?" he asked.

But the former mayor admits that if someone is buying a lot for, say, $300,000 and building a million-dollar home on top of it, "that person is far beyond the means of fitting into Roslyn."

Whatever happens, Denning said, "I just hope they don't get rid of the old fixtures because I don't feel like moving yet."

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293 or

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company




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